1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Confused about Life

  1. Oct 20, 2015 #1
    Hello PhysicsForums Readers,

    I need some advice concerning studying habits and techniques.

    I just started engineering undergrad in Canada, and while I feel I'm adequately intelligent to succeed here, my studying habits might possibly kill me. I feel like I love math and physics and the topics we go over, but it just feels overwhelming when I have to learn it so quickly for an exam.

    I'm just becoming overall anxious and basically pushing myself to the bottom here. Other students are able to study more effectively and are moving ahead of me.

    Can you tell me about a point in your life where you picked yourself up from "the bottom" or a low point in your academic career and began to achieve your full potential? What kind of mindset shift helped you break your mental blocks and begin to succeed?

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2015 #2
    The secret to my success was studying 2-3 hours outside of class for each class hour, beginning on the first day of the semester and extending up to the final exam. Preparation was continuous and did not peak in effort right before exams. I worked every assigned homework problem, and when preparing for exams, I worked most of them again, along with a selection of problems I picked that were what I expected exam questions to look like.

    Accomplishing this level of effort required careful planning and scheduling. Each Sunday night, I made an hour by hour schedule for that week that I taped to the corner of my desk. In most subjects, the first hour of preparation outside of class occurred at a break in my class schedule during the day (before dinner). After dinner, I circled back around and spent another hour working on the more demanding subjects.

    There was no time for TV, social media, or nearly as much recreation as I had enjoyed in high school. You cannot succeed in college with a high school mentality. See:

  4. Oct 20, 2015 #3
    I'll echo what Dr. Courtney said about dropping the high school mentality. When I was in high school, athletics and recreation were my focus. I did fine academically without developing any study skills. That hurt me my freshman year of college. I had to come to a realization that my "free time" had to be used for studying rather than socializing or watching tv.

    I don't recall any particular study techniques other than forcing myself to get out of my dorm room and go to a library or computer lab to get my work done since there were less distractions in those places. The biggest obstacle for me was just accepting the fact that I had to give up my free time in order to succeed. Up to that point in my life i had never made academics a priority. It took me awhile, but I finally got over the hump and "learned how to learn" on my own. Now, 18 years later, I still spend much of my free time studying and learning new things.
  5. Oct 20, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    There are two extreme models of academic performance that students tend to subscribe to. In one extreme, the student believes that intelligence is hard-wired and that successful students are "gifted" in some way. In the other extreme, the student believes that intelligence is a product of patience, persistence and practice. While the truth may very well lie somewhere between these two extremes, it's those who subscribe more to the latter that tend to perform better as time goes on. This is because those in the former see the education experience as more of a filter. Those who subscribe more to the latter attempt the harder problems and challenge themselves more. So one key factor seems to be to shift from one viewpoint to the other as early as possible.

    Another big factor that is often overlooked is taking good care of yourself. You need to get good sleep, eat nutritious food, get exercise, have productive down time, etc. so that you're not fighting battles on multiple fronts. Consider how hard it is to stay awake after you eat a big greasy meal for lunch and it's no wonder your mind wanders and your eyes get all droopy when you're in a lecture that's less than exciting.

    Also, make sure that you keep a little time to feed your own interests. It's important to read beyond what's assigned in class, and to follow ideas that are your own. This will keep you motivated.
  6. Oct 21, 2015 #5
    Couldn't agree more, it took me a few years in college to realise the students who were acing the classes weren't necessarily more intelligent than me, although they good have been, they were just willing to put in the effort required that gave the illusion of them just gliding through the course work.

    For me the key was simply balance and strict time management in the end. Splitting the day between a structured study time table, exercise and chill time. I also structured my exercise by joining a club with specific work out times, so there was no question of, "meh I don't feel like going to the gym, I'll just veg in front of the T.V."
    Chill time was, for me, spent with my girl friend at the time or friends, again with adherence to a schedule.

    The scheduling situation my seem a bit unnecessary and hectic at first, but I found that relinquishing the decision making, albeit to my past self, and just being able to check a sheet to see what to do next made life easier.
  7. Oct 21, 2015 #6

    Thanks everyone for your help. You are all right in that I need to put more effort into studying and be serious if I want to complete my degree and function in the real world.

    A lot of people say that at some point they learned how to learn. I haven't learned this skill yet, and I am going to try to schedule my time better and be more productive to build better habits.

    I have just finished some midterms and I feel have done very poorly; I left many questions blank / could not focus deeply . Before midterms I thought that I would just be able to solve the problems like I had on the assignments, but I felt so much more pressured and anxious that I couldn't think clearly.

    I imagine studying will help me be more relaxed on the exams, so I will begin spending more of my time on unmarked assignments and practice problems. If you have any other tips about what helped you get your mind together, they would be welcome.

  8. Oct 21, 2015 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I completed my degree but still don't really function in the real world.
    You are learning for the pleasure of understanding something you didn't understand before, not in order to prove to yourself or anyone that you are sufficiently intelligent. Concentrate, study consistently and keep a balance between this and the rest of your life, such as outdoor activities and leisure. Give it time: Starting university is not easy. If in a couple of months you feel that, in spite of serious and disciplined preparation, you do not manage tests well because of anxiety, you should perhaps consult a counselor. These people can help you to deal better with exam stress.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook